Preface to Bonewits’ Essential Guide to Druidism
Some kinda druid dudes lifting the veil.
Doing the mind guerrilla,
Some call it magic – the search for the grail.
John Lennon – Mind Games
If you want a Druid dude to lift the veil on Druidism, you’ve come to the right place. Isaac is like an eccentric and dedicated botanist who has decided in this book to recount his view of the exotic jungle that is modern Druidism. He’s well placed to do this because he’s been in the thick of it for some time. In fact he’s played a crucial role in its development in the modern era.
Most people think that Druidism is an ancient religion – a relic of the distant past. Others think it’s a Victorian invention, based on a few lines found in classical texts. They’re both right, but also wrong, because although Druidism did indeed originate way back in the past, and although it was ‘re-invented’ in the 18th and 19th centuries, much of Druidism as it is practised today really owes its origins to the very recent past of the 1960’s and 1980’s.
Something very powerful happened in the sixties. A wave of spiritual energy washed over the planet that influenced thousands, perhaps millions of people. One of its most important effects was to inspire the hippies who rebelled against establishment values. The hippies believed that governments were often corrupt, that war was inhumane, and that rampant consumerism and corporate greed were destroying the world. At the same time they had a vision of how the world could be, and became fascinated by alternative approaches to the spiritual quest. Although most turned to India for inspiration, some turned to the lands of Eire and Albion – with their mysterious stone circles and ley lines – and their Druids.
John Michell wrote a cult classic A View over Atlantis which popularised these mysteries, and John Lennon sang about druid dudes. Slap bang in the middle of the sixties while this spiritual wave was at its height, Druidism took on a new lease of life in both Britain and America. Up until then it had been an affair of fraternal associations or of Welsh, Cornish or Breton cultural groups. But from the sixties onwards a whole new kind of Druidry was born. It was environmentally aware, it focussed on spiritual practice, and it appealed to young people.
In 1963 a new Druid movement, the RDNA, was born in America which would act as the catalyst out of which future American Druidism would grow, while a few months later in 1964 Ross Nichols founded a new Druid group in Britain, the OBOD, which would become the largest Druid group in the world by the end of the century. Isaac was a member of the RDNA, and across the pond I was a member of the OBOD.
Twenty years after the forming of these two very different groups Isaac and I both found ourselves becoming leaders of Druid movements that were to prove seminal in the creation of the new Druidry which has emerged over the last few decades. Isaac describes how he started the ADF in 1984 in the pages of this book. The way I got to be a Druid Chief was rather more protracted but it began at the same time. In 1984 I had an experience which changed my life. My old druid teacher, Ross Nichols, who had died nine years previously, suddenly appeared to me one day and asked me to lead the Order he had founded twenty years earlier. He told me many things which proceeded to come true, and asked me to prepare his teachings in the form of a distance learning course. I spent four years doing this until in 1988 I was asked to become Chief, not by a being in the Otherworld this time, but by three beings from this solid mundane world.
For another twenty years the two streams of Druidism developed on either side of the Atlantic largely ignoring each other. ADF, and the groups and individuals who were influenced by it, treated Druidism as a neopagan religion, and were particularly keen to shake off the influences of the Druidic Revival period of the 18th and 19th centuries. They were looking for roots, and like the related movement of Celtic Reconstructionism, they sought evidence of authentic ancient practices which could be revived. Meanwhile OBOD, and the groups and individuals it inspired, saw Druidry as a path of spiritual and personal development that could be followed by people of any religious persuasion or none. They had a more relaxed attitude to the Druidism of the Revival Period and to questions of historical authenticity – if they liked something and found it worked it was in, if it didn’t it was out.
This state of affairs continued for about two decades until a couple of Americans defected. Gordon Cooper, co-founder of the Celtic Reconstruction movement, visited an OBOD summer camp, found he liked it, and started to change his understanding of modern Druid practice. The author John Michael Greer visited Britain too and then became Chief of the Ancient Druid Order in America. He has been busy ever since rehabilitating Revival Druidry – in particular with his latest book, The Druidry Handbook. In 2004 Gordon and John presented research papers in Oxford for OBOD’s Mount Haemus Award, and you can read these on the OBOD website.
And now here comes Isaac’s book which talks about both kinds of Druidism, and the many other varieties too, with frankness and humor. It feels like we’ve come of age. Modern Druidry was seeded in those old hippy days, it got a boost twenty years later in the 80s, and then another boost twenty years later as the two sides of the pond have started talking to each other. Events are moving fast! As fast, as the ADF motto goes: ‘as a speeding oak’! All good things take their time to develop organically, and that’s what’s occurring in Druidry.
What of the future? Isaac talks about his vision in the closing chapter of this book. He says ‘Many people who grew up in the 1960’s and 70’s are discovering us at about the same time that they are realizing both the desperate state of our planet and the eternal relevance of our youthful ideals.’ Something magical happened when those youthful ideals, inspired to a great extent by the hippies, met Druidism during those decades. With the benefit of hindsight, we can see that the hippies were right – they weren’t just naive and doped up. The evidence is all around us. Forty years ago they warned us of the dangers of corporate greed, political corruption, rampant militarism and the destruction of the environment. Now we can see that they were prophets in the true sense of the term. And I believe that part of Druidry’s purpose in the world now could well be to redeem and develop their vision – as fast as a speeding oak!
Lewes, East Sussex